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How does one respond to repeated lies?

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Jean-Luc Basle
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The Skripal Affair is a sham, as is Russiagate. How should Russia respond? It has chosen the high road. Its foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, asked the United Kingdom for samples of the substance used to poison Sergei Skripal and his daughter. Under the Chemical Weapons Convention, the United Kingdom is obliged to supply the samples. Prime minister, Theresa May, refused. Noting that Russia got a similar reaction in the Litvinenko poisoning case in 2006, Lavrov dismissed the affair as "nonsense". The Russian Defense Ministry took a much less nonchalant attitude in response to British defense secretary Gavin Williamson urging Russia to "go away and shut up ". Major General Igor Konashenkov said that it is "the rhetoric of an uncouth shrew " demonstrating an "intellectual impotence". Patience is wearing thin.

On March 14 th , Theresa May expelled 23 Russian diplomats, and on May 15 th , the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Germany issued a joint statement characterizing the poisoning as "an assault on UK sovereignty". This is a strong statement by four of the most powerful signatories of the Atlantic Treaty. Under the Alliance's Article V, any attack on one country is considered an attack on all. The joint statement is alluding to the article. It goes on to state that it is "highly likely that Russia was responsible for the attack". The phrasing is interesting in that it implies that Teresa May does not have any evidence to corroborate her accusation. This raises a question: how can she garner the support of the United States, Germany and France? She can, because the Skripal Affair is the continuation of Russiagate in another country. There is no more evidence in the Skripal Affair than there is in the Russiagate file.

Russia is the only country which counters the United States at the periphery of its empire, namely in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. It follows that it must be subdued. If it is, Washington's dream of world hegemony becomes possible. Russia is the object of a defamatory campaign orchestrated by the intelligence agencies with the complicity of main stream media. It began shortly after Vladimir Putin's speech at the Munich Conference in 2007 when he stated his vision of the world. Since then, he has been demonized, and humiliated in numerous occasions. Senator John McCain believes Russia is "a gas station masquerading as a country.

That's what the "nonsense" is all about. It is about provocation. It is about forcing Russia to make mistakes to further isolate it. In this tit for tat game, the United States has the upper hand. It can slowly increase the pressure without ever taking a drastic step. It can apply pressure politically, economically and financially. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO moved to Russia's borders, anti-ballistic missiles have been installed in Poland and Rumania. Washington plotted the coup which installed Petro Porochenko as president of Ukraine, and it applied economic sanctions after Russia took over Crimea. But, what if the Kremlin does not take the bait? What if it dispels these manoeuvers as nonsense? The United States will simply go on increasing the pressure until Moscow makes a blunder, allowing Washington to take drastic actions to strangle the Russian economy, forcing Moscow to capitulate.

In this game, Russia is the underdog. If it reacts, as it did in Ukraine, it will be pilloried on Western mass media and subjected to economic sanctions. If it doesn't, the absence of reaction will be viewed as a sign of weakness. The United States is playing an extremely dangerous game. Suppose the US miscalculates Russia's reaction and goes one step too far. Suppose the United States decides to launch a missile attack on the Syrian Army? What will happen if Russia --takes out not only the US missiles and airplanes but also the fleets from which the attack is launched while putting its nuclear forces on high alert", as suggested by Paul Craig Roberts? The shoe will be on the other foot: "What would Washington do?" asks President Reagan's former Treasury Assistant. The United States has a whole array of measures it can take. Russia only has one: its nuclear deterrence.

In Saint-Petersburg in 2016, Vladimir Putin told Western reporters: "How can you not understand that the world is being pulled in an irreversible direction?" On March 1 st , he told representatives of the Russian Federation that Russia now has hypersonic missiles which render the American anti-ballistic missiles obsolete. In effect, he was telling American and European decision-makers that he is in a position to launch a surprise attack. He invited his Western counterparts to seat down at the negotiating table to draw a peace treaty. There has been no official reaction in the United States. American media dismissed his speech as a hostile bluff.

The Skripal Affair is nonsense, indeed. It could turn into a tragedy. You can poke a bear so many times"

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Former Vice President Citigroup New York (retired) Columbia University -- Business School Princeton University -- Woodrow Wilson School

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